The theme for October was Water. Since this is Japanese cuisine the first thought is fish. The lovely painting of koi at the entrance also reminds us of this.
A koi mermaid imaginatively seconds that thought. Nodoguro's paintings are created by hostess Irena Roadhouse's father Alexander Kornienko. New ones appear for each theme and they add a lively air to each meal. Also Betta Fish floated in glass around the space and on top of the tables and bar. The decor gave a very nice feel for a watery environment.
Of course water is needed for so many things. The menu for the evening showed we would have more than fish. For without water we would have no plants.
As we were seated our chef Ryan Roadhouse was meticulously preparing the first course, grating matsutake mushroom. Zen was used as a word to describe his work but I think it's that attention to detail that is ingrained with chefs and other crafters in Japan. Every part of what is being created is important and one can spend years doing the same small task over and over before moving on to a more advanced one.
That Oregon matsutake ended up on top of charred Hakurei tofu with ikure.
Underneath was creamy soft tofu flavored with charred turnip essence. This didn't even taste like tofu but more like milk. The salmon roe was very fresh. Once again produce like the turnips were provided by Phantom Rabbit Farm.
Not only does Mark Wooten of Phantom Rabbit Farm grow specialty produce for Japanese restaurants in Portland but he also is Ryan's right hand man in the kitchen.
Next up was Hirame Usuzukuri which is flounder sliced thinly. Hirame is a seasonal fish served in the Fall and Winter. Ryan's preparation was to serve a slice from the fin and others from the body to demonstrate the differences in texture. This sashimi was delicate and wonderful.
We then experienced a very creative dish that paid homage to the water theme. Orca beans, scallop, uni and water pepper in a nice harmonious pouching liquid. Once again there were the different textures of the scallop added with the softness of the uni. I had never had water pepper before and it didn't take many little buds to bring a bit of spice to this dish.
Water isn't just fish and we were served a root vegetable sunomono. But it was not all root vegetables because there was a smoky seaweed at the base topped with sunchoke, turnip and kiwi berries. I like this kind of imaginative thinking that puts together new ingredients into a traditional dish. It worked really well with the vinegary flavor that sunomono has.
I've had air dried sanma before. I know it can end up being dry and salty. But not this time. Ryan salted and air dried the Pacific saury personally and then cooked it in the restaurant where it was served with citrus and grated karaine turnip from Phantom Rabbit Farm. What flavor! Definitely not dry or too salty. This was the best version of this dish I have ever had. It has inspired me to try cooking sanma soon. Although I know it won't be the same.
Clear broths are often served in traditional Japanese meals and we were able to experience a lovely matsutake osuimono. One thing I have learned is making dashi with different ingredients and getting the right balance is an art. Add in these nice matsutake and it was a treat to consume this taste of autumn.
While we were supping Ryan and Mark were busy plating our next treat.
A break from the intense flavors followed with sweet dashi omelette. Tamagoyaki is considered a dish all sushi chefs need to master. So it's one way to see if a chef knows what he is doing. I've had a lot of it, some good, some not so good. Anyone who has made an omelette know it's not easy getting that fluffiness without breaking down the egg. Add in trying to achieve the right balance of sweet, salty and umami and you have Tamagoyaki. This time it was achieved wonderfully. Light and not too sweet or salty. I hope some day Ryan will hold classes on how to create this lovely omelette.
Nearing the end but the surprises were not over. We were served a chocolate and filbert beer float. An ingenious little dish suggested by Nodoguro's knowledgeable hostess Irena Roadhouse. Diners around me really enjoyed the effervescence of this chocolate ice cream and filbert beer float. The bitterness of the beer kept the dish from being too sweet. Of course in Japan it's common to make sundaes out of unexpected things and this worked in an adult way.
The dinner ended with this lovely chestnut manju and a delicious cup of hojicha green tea. A very nice pairing to end this fall dinner.
What can I say? If you love Japanese food and live in the North West or will be visiting it's worth attending one of Nodoguro's dinners. It really is a treat to be able to experience fine Japanese dining, sosaku ryori, without having to fly to Japan. I wish I had tried Nodoguro sooner but better late than never.